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27 Prominent Medieval Andalusi Women

The following biographies of medieval Andalusi women are drawn from the Kitāb al-Ṣilah of Ibn Bashkuwal (d. 1183), the Takmilat Kitāb al-Ṣilah by Ibn al-Abbar (d. 1260), and the Kitāb Ṣilat al-Ṣila by Ibn al-Zubayr (d. 1308). They include women from various classes of society and different regions of al-Andalus who participated in scholarship and learning between the ninth and thirteenth centuries. These biographical works and accounts provide important insight into the social and intellectual history of al-Andalus and allow modern scholars to better understand the role of Andalusi women in the transmission of knowledge during the Middle Ages.

 


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The Taifa Kingdoms (ca. 1010-1090): Ethnic and Political Tensions in al-Andalus during the 11th Century

Following the collapse and disintegration of the Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba during the civil wars of 1009–1013, al-Andalus fragmented into about 20-30 kingdoms known as the party kingdoms, reyes de taifas or mulūk al-tawā’if. Some of these emirates, such as the Taifa of Silves, were little more than self-governing city-states while others, such as the Taifa of Seville, controlled large swathes of territory. Although there were three Taifa periods—the first from 1010 to 1110, the second from 1144-1172, and the third from roughly 1220 to 1270—I will be focusing this post on the first Taifa era, which is what scholars usually mean when they refer to the “Taifa Kingdoms.” I thought it would be useful to simply lay out the names and ethno-tribal origins of the ruling families of the various Taifa kingdoms in order to demonstrate the complex political situation that had arisen in 11th-century al-Andalus. Although the question of “ethnicity” is certainly a troublesome one in the medieval period (not least in al-Andalus!), the concepts of “Berber,” “Arab,” and “indigenous Iberian” (muwallad) were all deployed and utilized by various factions in the Taifa kingdoms during the 11th century. Rather than attempt any major analysis (I’ve provided a list of further reading for those interested in learning more), it seemed like a good idea to clarify the tribal and “ethnic” background of each of ruling families of the Taifa kingdoms.

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A Sixteenth-Century Fresco Painting of the Battle of La Higueruela (1431) in El Escorial

One of the most significant battles in fifteenth-century Iberia was undoubtedly the Battle of La Higueruela, fought in July 1431 between the forces of Juan II of Castile (r. 1406-1454), whose army was led by the Constable of Castile Álvaro de Luna (d. 1453), and the Nasrids, led by Sultan Muhammad IX (d. 1454). The battle was fought in the valley around Granada, known as the Vega, and ended in a victory for Castile, although without any territorial gains. One of the main consequences of the battle was the overthrow of Muhammad IX and the brief enthronement of Yusuf IV (d. 1432) who agreed to resume tribute payments to Castile.

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The Alcazaba of Almeria: A Masterpiece of Islamic Military Architecture

About three years ago, when I was in Spain, I had the opportunity to visit the south-eastern coastal city of Almería. I was drawn by the city’s illustrious history, which extends back thousands of years and, in particular, by its importance in Andalusi history. The city is distinguished by the fact that its Muslim population was almost entirely composed of indigenous converts to Islam, who were later joined by southern Arabian (Yemeni) tribes who settled in the region. In the late eighth and early ninth century, these converts (known as muwalladun) established an important polity based around the town of Almería (and its neighboring town Pechina/Bajjana) which was entirely independent from the central authorities in Cordoba. This polity was based mainly on local agriculture, the cermanics industry, and maritime trade. Almería’s population specialized in sea-faring, as is evident from their extensive ship-building expertise and the fact that they traveled widely in the Mediterranean.

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